Dear Reader,

Dear reader I am writing to ask you a question. What happens after a person has had some reconciliation of the fact that he/she was very much abused as a small child? If this doesn’t pertain to you, please disregard this post.

I have just undergone gut-wrenching and extensive therapy since December 2020 which for me had its origins in treatment I received as a small child of about 6.

I have been clinging to the earth these last few weeks so as not to slip again into the abyss where for some extended period of time a portion of my psyche had been living.

According to my own assessment, I have successfully crawled and clawed my way out of a 100 foot deep pit with slippery mud sides.

Now that I am completely out of the pit ( I hope), I am wondering what to do with myself, what to work on, what to avoid, what to learn, what to enjoy. Take a shower and wash off the mud? Take into account exactly where the pit is so as not to fall into it again? Designate this exit from the abyss as my new “rock bottom” and be thankful for hitting it so as to get the $%^&* out of there? Allow myself to tell myself, I deserve happiness? I deserve good health and fitness?

As fodder for knowing I have exited the abyss, for the first time in 20 years I have been able to stick to an exercise routine composed of mostly yoga and some walking in the neighborhood. I have recorded a log which is two weeks long and growing which for me is super progress. In my youth I was very, very fit, so getting back to that place with mindfulness is huge for me.

So if anyone here or there has also climbed out of their own pit of abuse or anxiety or depression, I would love to hear your story as to what you decided to do next once you found yourself alongside the edge of that pit but no longer in it.

Of course I will talk my therapist about it, but I thought I would ask you dear reader in the meantime.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting (reposted and a continuation from prior post)

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.

I have a bad case of covid fatigue

I have a bad case of covid-19 fatigue and here’s what I am doing about it.

Anxiety is my go-to emotion. Anxiety in the midst of a pandemic is particularly tough. What I find I am doing with my anxiety is projecting out several weeks, several months and even several years into the future to see what life’s obstacles I need to attend to. This is completely the opposite of what I know I should be doing. I should be living in the moment one day at a time and not getting too far into the future or the past.

In order to help myself along with this goal and this need of getting back into the present, I am contemplating all the things I am worrying about, putting them on a list and then putting a time frame on them as to when they are due. Things that do not fall within the next 2 to 4 weeks or so go on the back burner to be addressed another day.

It is OK but not functional to have a list of all things to attend to until Doomsday. It is much nicer to have a shorter, more obtainable list of things I need to do in the next two weeks.

How do you keep focused on the present in this time of covid?

Sometimes when I don’t have the energy…

Sometimes I don’t have the energy to tackle the things on my to-do list. Either the to-do list is too long, or I am feeling anxious about things or some combination of the two.

What I have found when I am feeling this way is if I can just do one small thing on the list like pickup eggs at the supermarket, the rest of the list does not feel so daunting. As soon as I can jumpstart myself into doing one thing that’s productive, the barriers to finishing other items on the to-do list are less so. Often I can go ahead and complete several other items.

Does anybody else have a way of jumpstarting their to-do list? What is your secret?

Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

Thoughts from an evolving helicopter mom…

I no doubt struggle with being a helicopter mom — someone who is always hovering about her child and getting overly involved in schoolwork and other developments in my 16-year-old’s life.

In these days of covid-19 I am trying my best to be more hands-off. The last thing my daughter needs during the pandemic is for me to be breathing down her neck about school work. She is 16 so she is largely capable of doing her schoolwork on her own.

She is also an A or A plus student during non-covid times, so it seems more than likely she should be fine in this age of remote learning.

I feel that my anxiety is what prompts me most into being a helicopter mom. Moving forward, I need to talk myself out of anxious feelings before involving my daughter in my own anxiety experience. She has enough on her plate connecting to school and peers remotely and does not need me to micro-manage her. It only adds to her stress.

I believe at the root of the problem is the fact that I was not safe when I was young due to abuse from a neighbor. My hyper-vigilance is a by-product of not feeling safe when I was young and projecting that onto my daughter’s situation. While it is good to be vigilant, there is a definite downside to too much worry and too much involvement nonetheless.

So the goal for now is to not involve my daughter in the consequences of my anxiety: too many questions, worries about deadlines, concerns about testing. She is almost 17 years old and can manage those things on her own.

Going forward, I just need to check-in with her once a day and see if there is anything I can help with. That’s my plan for now. Anybody else have the experience of being a helicopter mom? If so, how do you manage it?

I just had a three-hour talk with my best friend…

My best friend and I talked on the porch with masks and social distancing for the last almost three hours. She is the type of friend who you cannot see for 6 months and then pick up and connect just where you left off last.

It was wonderful to know more about how she’s been doing and helpful to feel that I might be of help just listening to some of the things that have been occupying her life — like caring for her teenage son who has had some mental concerns and being a teacher in this time of distance learning and covid-19. The teachers right now in the States are having a time of it.

Talking also helped me put my own problems into better perspective. The challenges of my life seem to largely revolve around my anxiety even when the actual problems themselves are not that dire. Talking to my friend helped me gain some insight into my own peculiar need to always have something to worry about when that is not necessarily helpful or needed.

My friend is also an avid exercise person. I gave her permission to get on my case for not exercising on a regular basis. I asked her to reach out to her son and to her ex-husband and let them know that she respects the work they are putting in daily to overcome anxiety and other related challenges.

Once again, I am reminded how thankful I am for the relationships in my life. It makes me want to invest more time in developing more meaningful relationships across the board. Even when the conversation moves to serious topics, it is good to know we are not alone and that we can do our best to put on each others’ shoes and walk a mile or two.

Question for You?

** This post deals with paranoid thoughts and experiencing them**

We have all been told that paranoid thoughts do not have any value whatsoever. They are thoughts not grounded in reality and therefore something to forget or ignore or get past as well as we are able.

I have been prone to paranoid thoughts off and on since the onset of my bipolar illness in 1984 / 1985. Most times this paranoid thought is confusing, upsetting and painful. However, I am wondering whether to write a blog post that talks about the potential that there may be a small or very small kernel of truth in paranoid thought however hidden or misshapen particularly when paranoid thoughts from several people about the same topic are considered at one time.

For example consider that someone is paranoid about the water quality in the town where he lives and reports that to police. In that same week, police get reports from 5 different people that there has been a suspicious character near the water works for that town and 2 to 3 neighboring towns. These reports each taken by themselves these might be examples of paranoid thought but taken together might hint that there is a potential risk with the water supply in a nearby town.

The key is that there would need to be some independent entity that is recording the paranoid thoughts from individuals and looking for trends in them, then verifying whether the trends are grounded in reality or not.

Does this type of suggestion of trending paranoid thoughts interest you or cause you anxiety? I would like to write more about this potential hidden kernel of truth in paranoid thought but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way. I also do not wish to glorify paranoid thoughts in any way since most of what paranoid thought is is confusing and upsetting. I am looking for your feedback as to whether this type of discussion would be helpful to you or not?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Development of High Anxiety

In the years after I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness, I would have a break and go into the hospital about every six months.  Eventually with the right meds I got to the place where I would have mini-breaks every six months and stay with my sister Jane and her family rather than go into the hospital.  This was during the days of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol.  I would leave my apartment and take the subway to my sister Jane’s house about 25 minutes away.  Oftentimes this ride was a huge challenge.  I would arrive at Jane’s house with an overnight bag and some meds and put my belongings in the basement where there was a guest room.  I would spend between three and seven nights at Jane’s house where she would help me with administering meds.  In those early days, the anxiety associated with waiting for the meds to kick-in was excruciating.  I often requested to hold Jane’s hand as we lay in the bed until the medication had had time to sink in and sedate me. 

At that time, the meds for bipolar illness were not very advanced.  Meds seemed at that time to treat the symptoms of the illness rather than seeking to manage the illness before the break-through of mini or grand episodes.  I am forever grateful to my sister for allowing me several years of staying with her and her family every six months or so and managing though those mini-episodes. When I was at her house and under the care of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol, it would take about an hour for the impact of the meds to sink in.  During that hour of sheer hell I would sit and smoke cigarettes nonstop waiting for the meds to kick in.

Since those early days of a mini break every six months, I have been prone to high anxiety which is often at times consuming and sits sometimes in the background, as a nagging reminder that I continue to struggle with my moods every day.   Managing the anxiety associated with bipolar illness has developed into my greatest challenge besides the reversal of stigma.  Perhaps pairing the management of this anxiety with a willingness to explore potential abuse as a child will make an impact on this generalized anxiety – hopefully reducing it substantially. 

I also have more recently added an additional medication Trileptal to help with the anxiety and this appears to be making a difference for me.

As an aside based on commonplace discussions, I have been told that family intervention for people with behavioral health diagnoses is much more common in Europe than in the US.  Just like our propensity in the US is to care for the elderly in homes for the elderly, we tend in the US to care for people with psychiatric disorders in a hospital setting.  Personally, I feel that the more care that can be provided in the context of the family and the family home the better.

Once again, my illness has developed in phases.  Early in my diagnosis were “grand episodes” including hospitalizations.  These ”grand episodes” gradually gave way to more “mini episodes” managed in the home with a few exceptions. In my postpartum period, I was back to having “grand episodes” and being in the hospital again for those first three to four years. 

As I became more comfortable with managing my illness and being a Mom, I went back not to having “mini episodes” but to having a general level of anxiety to manage at all times.  Goals but not necessarily accomplishments include daily meditation, daily exercise goals including walking and yoga and a daily commitment toward transparency in my faith and my diagnosis.

When You Have Anxiety….

When you have anxiety I am wondering what time of day that usually occurs or if there is a time of day that is most difficult with your anxiety? For me the most common time to experience anxiety is when I first wake up in the morning. I am always anxious about something as I awake. More recently it has been about will I have cancer. I am going through a series of tests right now for breast cancer and wake up worried about it.

Do you have a specific time of day when anxiety is most difficult?